Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says his “door is still open” to Facebook and Google despite their warnings over Canadians’ access to news if Bill C-18 becomes law, though he added that he won’t be moved by threats.
Appearing before the Commons heritage committee on Monday, Mr. Rodriguez appeared to strike a more conciliatory note after an acrimonious standoff between the federal government and tech giants, saying he doesn’t like the impression of confrontation.
“We may disagree on something, but there is still a lot of stuff we can do together so my door is still open to see if we can discuss,” he said.
Earlier this year, Mr. Rodriguez and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sharply criticized Facebook and Google over their response to Bill C-18. The online news bill would make the companies compensate news organizations for posting or linking to their work.
Facebook has warned it will block Canadians’ ability to view or share news if the bill, which is currently being considered at a Senate committee, becomes law in its current form.
Earlier this year, Google conducted five weeks of tests of potential responses to the online news bill, which led to around 1.1 million Canadians having their ability to search for news sites temporarily restricted.
The move prompted a sharp reaction from Mr. Trudeau who said Google’s actions were “extremely troubling” and a “terrible mistake.” Earlier this month, he called Facebook “deeply irresponsible and out of touch” for not wanting to compensate news organizations under Bill C-18.
At the heritage committee on Monday, Mr. Rodriguez said MPs of all parties and senators should regard threats by tech giants, including Google, as “unacceptable.”
“When a big tech company, whatever the size is, the amount of money and the powerful lawyers they have, they come here and they tell us, if you don’t do this or that, then I’m pulling the plug – that’s a threat and that is unacceptable,” he said.
“I never did anything because I was afraid of a threat and I will never do it,” he added.
Richard Gingras, Google’s vice-president news, told a Senate committee hearing earlier this month that the company is “eagerly, if not desperately, seeking a constructive path forward.”
Shay Purdy, a Google Canada spokesman, said it is doing everything it can to avoid a negative outcome for Canadians. Facebook declined to comment.
A strong news industry is essential to Canadian democracy, said Laura Scaffidi, a spokeswoman for Mr. Rodriguez.
“Bill C-18 is in the Senate, and we’re aware that the tech platforms have proposed amendments to senators,” she said. “We respect their role to do this important work, and we’ll review Bill C-18 when it comes back to the House.”
The minister said his department is considering extra help for small media outlets to adjust to the digital age after MPs from all parties expressed concern about them closing down and depriving people of local news.
He said there were a number of existing programs to help local media and Bill C-18 would provide them with another source of funding.
Mr. Rodriguez also defended the CBC, criticizing the Conservatives for saying they would cut its funding. He said the Official Opposition was using the CBC as a wedge issue.
The Tories have said they would keep funding Radio-Canada, the French service of the CBC. The minister said CBC/Radio-Canada was a single institution with the same infrastructure, and questioned how cutting the English side of its programming would be technically feasible when so much is shared.
He said his department is starting to review CBC/Radio-Canada’s mandate, adding that the public broadcaster would “also benefit from C-18 eventually.”